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Solar System Installations Increasing Fast

Originally published on Worldwatch Institute.

New analysis by the Worldwatch Institute examines global trends in the solar power sector

Washington, D.C.—The year 2013 saw record-breaking growth for solar electricity generation as the photovoltaic (PV) and concentrated solar thermal power (CSP) markets continued to grow. With over 39 gigawatts installed worldwide, the PV solar market represented one-third of all newly-added renewable energy capacity, write Worldwatch’s Max Lander and Climate and Energy Intern Xiangyu Wu in the Worldwatch Institute’s latest Vital Signs Online trend (www.worldwatch.org).

Solar Energy Generating Systems solar power plants III-VII at Mojave Desert, California. Image & Caption Credit: Alan Radecki Akradecki.

Solar PV installations nearly matched those of hydropower and, for the first time, outpaced wind additions. Even though photovoltaic systems continue to dwarf CSP capacity, the CSP market also had another year of impressive growth. By the end of 2013, a total of 19 countries had CSP plants installed or under construction.

Consumption of power from PV and CSP plants increased by 30 percent globally in 2013 to reach 124.8 terawatt-hours. Europe accounted for the majority of global solar power consumption (67 percent), followed by Asia (23.9 percent) and North America (8.1 percent). Worldwide, solar consumption equalled 0.5 percent of electricity generation from all sources.

Despite the record growth in installations, global investments in solar electricity were down 20 percent (from $142.9 billion in 2012 to $113.7 billion in 2013), reflecting a significant decrease in costs. In July 2014, global PV module spot prices reached an all-time low of $0.63 per watt. For the first time, Asia overtook Europe as the largest regional market.

While global PV module production increased by only 3 percent over 2012, module shipments jumped by 24 percent, signalling an easing of oversupply problems.

Prospects are bright for solar development as prices continue to fall and approach grid parity in an increasing number of contexts. Rooftop solar is already less expensive per megawatt-hour than retail electricity in Australia, Brazil, Denmark, Italy, and Germany. Estimates now also show that PV has become price-competitive without subsidies in 15 countries. For 2014, solar installations are estimated to reach 40–51 gigawatts.

Country Highlights from the Report:

  • China installed 12.9 gigawatts of PV, the most ever installed in one year by any country. The country’s momentous expansion was fueled largely by its feed-in tariff (FIT) program, which supports large, grid-connected utility-scale projects as well as distributed generation projects. However, grid connections are struggling to keep up with the rapid pace of China’s PV deployment.
  • Europe installed close to 11 GW of PV. This represented the second annual decline in installations after peaking at 22.3 GW in 2011. In Germany, a reduction of FIT rates and an increase in regulations for utility-scale projects contributed to the fall in installations.
  • North America added 5.2 GW of PV. The United States installed the third most PV worldwide, with 4.8 GW.
  • In Central and South America, solar development has been sluggish. Despite power consumption more than doubling in 2013, the region still accounts for a small fraction of the world’s solar power.
  • The Middle East and Africa had little PV activity, with the exception of Israel and South Africa, which added 420 MW and 75 MW, respectively.
 
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